Our Finished Dining Room

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I can with 100% certainty say that our dining room is FINISHED! Ah… it feels so good to say. It feels even better to know there is an entire room in our new house that is completely styled to our satisfaction. I liked the warmth of the farmhouse, but also wanted to incorporate the cool industrial look into our space since we live in the Steel Valley! In fact, our town is quite the juxtaposition being equal distance from cozy, family farms and steel mills. Speaking of contrast, I just can’t get over the before & after pictures of this space:

I like the actual place I’m living in to contain elements from what the area is notorious for. In San Diego it was pretty obvious: beach. My room had walls coated in a sand-like texture with the smallest flecks of gold, and I usually kept seashells on my dresser. This is starkly different from my usual beachy vibes, but this style feels earned. I really had to embrace not just Ohio, but this particular valley, and now I display it like a badge of honor in my home.

 

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The chairs are definitely what tied this whole room together for me. Despite them being a cold metal, which is some thing J was concerned about, they are actually quite comfortable and easy to clean. Even my curvy self sits comfortably in these chairs!

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These awesome chairs can be found here and are fairly affordable. The nice people at Anji Modern Furniture offered me a discount for reviewing these beauties on Amazon for them, as well as offering a little shoutout here, up on my blog. The truth is though, that I had already made up my mind that these were the chairs for us before we officially purchased them.

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House Update: Dining Room

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If you follow me on Instagram, then you got to see a sneak peak of this gorgeous table! I am so excited to share the details of this piece with you all now that it is sitting pretty in our dining room! My in-laws are really the ones who helped me build the farmhouse table of my dreams, and when it came yesterday I was thrilled. White on the bottom, Ohio country pine on the top. I can’t wait to pair it with some cool industrial chairs to match the rustic/steel look we have going throughout the rest of the house right now!

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I’ve also [shamelessly] been pulling out my fall decorations…

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Other than our chic chairs [which will be ordered next month], the dining room is finished! I am also considering some type of organic plant life to bring some green into the space, but I think the dining room looks fantastic regardless. It was so nice to finally eat a family meal together, at the table! Even if that meal was Taco Bell….  All in all, I feel so blessed to have in-laws who not only help us care for the girls, but who want to see our little dreams come true in our first home. I was happy to share a meal with them at our new table for the first time. It was my Mother -in-Law’s friend who built the table for us, so I got to have a say in every detail. It is such a special piece of furniture both for the reasons that I got to design it, and that my in-laws were generous enough to orchestrate the entire process. It will be a symbol of love in fellowship in our home for a very long time.

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Back in the Kitchen

 

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Unfortunately, it had been a couple weeks since I cooked an entire meal from scratch. This week we ended up with apples, onions, and pork chops that needed to be used, so what a perfect storm for Martha Stewart’s Pork chop recipe with apples and onions! I’ve posted the recipe before, so I won’t waste your time with a repeat post… but as I was cooking in the kitchen, I genuinely felt happy.

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For most people, cooking is a chore and some thing to dread at the end of a day. It seems for me, that the more exhausted I am, the more I seek solace in the kitchen. In a lot of ways it is a creative outlet, as well as being an opportunity for me to provide some thing for my family. Plus, I love cooking infinitely more in my new, gorgeous kitchen. I am particularly fond of my ovens [now that I learned how to use them]. I mean, check out these beautiful golden-brown potatoes… Thank you, broil! 13567395_10153734747861239_721275762438517242_n

It has been an exhausting week. I started taking Zumba classes, I have been running errands with the girls, going to doctors appointments, and every thing else life throws at us on any given week. Cooking and working out have really helped me from feeling overwhelmed. Photography has helped, too, especially when I have such an adorable model. J surprised me with tickets to see The Shallows tonight, so I have an unexpected date to look forward too. Yes, this week has been tough but also rewarding in so many little ways. I hope yours has been too!

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Steak Secrets

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Now that we’re heading into summer, I feel like cooking some steaks out on the grill will become more common place. I prefer to cook mine in a skillet though, and while J has said time and time again that he doesn’t really care for steak, he has given me the highest compliments the last few times I’ve prepared it for him. Steak is one of my favorite foods (yes, my parents would take me to Black Angus on my birthday…) and as I’ve grown older, my techniques have become a little more involved, but they are still simple enough for the novice to pick up and create a delicious meal with.

My obsession with the Food network actually became useful. I never thought about letting the meat “rest” and when Bobby Flay told “Worst Cooks in America” contestant that you’re supposed to just leave the steak alone while it cooks, I was shocked. Anyway, as silly as it sounds I have adopted some of these techniques and they have improved my cooking. Now, here’s what you need:

-A good, quality steak. I’ve become a little more choosey when it comes to steak shopping. I usually go for organic grass fed beef that doesn’t have a ton of fat that will need to be rendered down.
-a meat thermometer. I used to just go off of time (ex. 3 minutes on each side) but the meat thermometer ensures that the meat is cooked without hacking it into little pieces.
quality spices. sea salt or [my personal fave] black truffle salt are great alternatives to traditional table salt.
– letting the meat rest. I usually take my steak out of the fridge, pat off the extra juices, season it with salt and pepper, and ten leave it to rest for 30 mins before cooking it. this helps take the chill from the refrigerator off of the meat. After I’m done cooking, I let the meat rest in the pan for 10 minutes before serving it. To me, this makes for a more tender and juicy steak.

Here’s how I normally cook:
Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over steaks, then heat a large  skillet over high heat. Add some olive oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add steaks to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned, checking with the thermometer to see if they’ve reached 155 degrees. Reduce heat to medium-low; add butter and garlic (maybe 1 clove) to pan. Carefully grasp pan handle using an oven mitt or folded dish towel. Tilt pan toward you so butter pools; cook 1 1/2 minutes, basting steaks with butter constantly. Remove steaks from pan; cover loosely with foil. Let stand 10 minutes.

What are your cooking secrets?

{image source: aminerecipes.com}

Honey Garlic Chicken

 

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This is the easiest dinner ever, yintz! I put all the ingredients in a bag ahead of time, before Cora was born, so that I had it on hand for a night when I didn’t know what to cook. The best part of this recipe, is that it actually doesn’t require you to do any cooking. You dump these chicken thighs into a crock pot for 6 hours, and you’re ready to go!

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It has been tough trying to narrow down Cora’s allergy, and while I think it’s mostly a sensitivity to dairy that upsets her tummy, I have been eating meals free of: wheat, dairy, eggs, fish, soy , and peanuts. It has really limited my options of meal helpers and other processed foods that I used to be able to quickly throw in the microwave as a side to a meal. Luckily, this meal met all my requirements and was also delicious! I paired it with “fried rice” only I substituted the actual rice with quinoa I had leftover from another meal that was in danger of expiring. This chicken is also fantastic with green beans, and while it can be made in the crock pot, it’s also a fantastic stove top recipe.

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So, here’s what you need:

Spray your crock pot with non-stick spray (I used Trader Joe’s coconut oil spray) and lay the chicken thighs on the bottom. Whisk together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the chicken. Put the crock pot on high and cook for 6 hours. SO EASY. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can cook the chicken in a skillet on the stove, and pour the sauce over it once the chicken has cooked thoroughly. This is also a tasty variation!

So tender… ENJOY!

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Crockpot Taco Chili

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This wonderful recipe comes to us, inspired by Sweet Bella Roos, who took the beautiful food photography above! In my previous posts, I’ve said that my nesting is in full swing, in the form of me preparing freezer meals to make when the baby arrives. J will eat anything that has the word “taco” in the description, so I felt like this was a good pick. It smells amazing, and this recipe is just so easy, I had to share!

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What you need:

  • 1 lb cooked ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 2 8 oz cans diced tomatoes & green chilies
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic (or half a clove)
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

**Optional toppings: sour cream, Fritos, tortilla chips, shredded cheese, green onion, etc.

INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Place all the ingredients in a freezer bag, stir well, and freeze until ready.
  2. Place in crock pot and cook on high for one hour.
  3. Cook on low for 4-6 hours.
  4. Serve with shredded cheese, cilantro, chopped green onions, corn chips, or your favorite toppings!
NOTES
Write on the bag: “Taco Chili, Cook high 1 hour, Cook low 4-6 hours”- so you don’t forget!
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Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes

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Did you know Thanksgiving is only NINE days away?! Mamas are busy ladies, and it’s understandable that we end up unprepared during most of the holiday season. These important meals sneak up on you, and there’s panic when you realize you have no plan for what to bring.

I’ve only hosted Thanksgiving once, but since becoming a married woman, I feel it’s one of my responsibilities as a member of the family to bring something to Thanksgiving dinner. Growing up, you usually have 1-3 women who do ALL the cooking for 30 people. When you’re excuse is being a 10 year old kid, ok don’t pitch in, but once you have your own job and apartment, it’s time to bring some thing to Thanksgiving dinner. I felt I had even less of an excuse not to contribute when I was a newlywed, and all the women of the family had just spent hundreds of dollars on getting me kitchen supplies. It was time to put those handy tools and supplies to work!

Anyway, in light of the fast approaching holiday, I wanted to share my greatest Thanksgiving hits with you. It’s intimidating to share a recipe with family for the first time, especially during such an important meal. These recipes are pretty easy and don’t require too many ingredients. So, if you still don’t know what you’re bringing to Thanksgiving, hopefully some of these ideas will inspire you!

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Pumpkin Cupcakes – I brought these to my first Thanksgiving ever, with J’s family. If you’ve never brought anything to a Thanksgiving dinner before, you can’t go wrong with dessert! Since it was the first time I had ever spent Thanksgiving with a family other than my own, I wasn’t sure who typically brought what. I knew that in my family, certain members were known for certain dishes [everyone LOVES my Aunt Julie’s rolls, and Grandpa always did the gravy, etc.] so I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes by attempting a traditional side-dish. This recipe is delicious and a great alternative to having too many pies.

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Sweet potato hash – My second year with J’s family, was our first Thanksgiving as Mr & Mrs. I felt more confident to bring a dish to go with dinner, so I brought this sweet potato hash. My first year, I noticed that his family only did the sweet potatoes with marshmallow on top, so I thought I’d bring a savory version too. It was a big hit! Not to mention, a healthy hit, too! This recipe is a vegetarian version, but you can swap out the veggie patties for sausage patties and it tastes GREAT.

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Spinach Salad with pear and cranberry – I have to admit, while I found this recipe on my own, I was attempting to imitate a salad my Aunt Julie would bring to either Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners. When I was younger I thought the only dressing that could go on a salad was ranch. In the name of trying new things, I picked up a scoop of her sweet, fruity salad and immediately fell in love. I knew that the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted, this side would definitely have to be on the table. I was cooking for 20+ traditional Italians and I wasn’t sure how a salad without Italian dressing would do with J’s crowd. Luckily, everyone LOVED it! In fact, I completely ran out of salad as people were asking for second and third helpings.

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Cornbread stuffing – For the most part, I try to stick to a gluten free diet… but around the holidays that can get pretty tough! Once I found Martha Stewart’s cornbread stuffing, it was a total game changer. I LOVE this recipe, and so did the rest of the family. I was able to make it gluten free by making my own corn bread from scratch, but you can make it as easy or as difficult as you want depending on how much time you actually end up having.

Those are by far the best recipes I’ve ever brought to Thanksgiving dinners in the past. Like I said, if you have extra time or are feeling especially domestic, you can personalize these recipes as little or as much as you want to! For the salad, I make my own candied pecans to sprinkle on top and some times, I even make the dressing from scratch. Hopefully some of these recipes inspire you and take some of the stress out of planning for the big turkey dinner next Thursday! Good Luck!

Guacamole

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This guac is SO good, we made it twice in 3 days. The first time, we shared it with friends over dinner, the next time we hoarded it all for ourselves. So, in honor of our trip to California, I want to share my favorite guacamole recipe with you all. \

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What you need:
-4 avocados
-1/2 c. of onion
-3 Tbs of cilantro
-1 jalapeno
-2 roma tomatos
-1/2 lime
-salt

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Cut avocados in half and carefully remove the pits. Cube the avocado, scoop out of the skin and place in a bowl. Squeeze lime juice from half the lime over the avocado and sprinkle with salt, toss to coat. Smash avocado with fork. Finely chop the rest of the ingredients and fold into the avocado mixture. Serve with tortilla chips! Personally, we put a dollop on top of some piping hot quesadillas. Enjoy!

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New York Recap

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As I announced on Friday, the husband and I were in New York City this past weekend, attending comic con! While we mostly hung around the convention center doing nerdy things, we also had time to explore a bit of the city. I wanted to share all my favorite things with you guys in a post, so here it goes! [I plan to do a separate post on the convention for all you nerdy followers, but this will just be a recap of my favorite city spots and places to eat…]

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First things first, if you want a chic place to stay near the convention center or Hell’s Kitchen, then I’d highly recommend the Yotel. You can’t miss the signature purple neon of this place if you’re on 10th ave. They have killer free coffee all day [which, even though coffee has been giving me acid reflux, I seriously couldn’t resist a cup…] and in the mornings, they have really delicious muffins for free. It’s clean, updated, and only a 5-10 minute walk to the convention center which made it perfect for this trip.

Our favorite place for a meal was Friedman’s on W 31st street. I cannot say enough good things about this place. All of their food was fresh, they has a wide variety of gluten free options, and the staff was so friendly and helpful despite being overwhelmed with business from people leaving the convention at night. J and I both got salads, but they must have housemade dressings because I am telling you, I have never had a better balsamic vinaigrette in my LIFE.

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You all know I love my sweets, and while I was disappointed that I didn’t get to visit the Manhattan Carlo’s Bakery, it ended up being a blessing because I got to go to this delicious cookie spot instead. Schmackary’s has THE BEST cookies. We got an Oatmeal Scotchie [oatmeal and butterscotch], The Monster [oats, PB, m&m’s, semi sweet chocolate chips], Red Velvet, Caramel Delight [chocolate cookie with caramel in the middle and a tiny sprinkle of coconut], Funfetti [reminiscent of the funfetti cake with vanilla frosting and sprinkles (also my favorite from the bunch)], and Maple bacon. It was hard for us not to eat these all in one sitting, and pictured above it me sneaking half a cookie in the airport terminal while hubs was using the restroom…

As you know, J and I are Catholic, which means we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to go to mass at St. Patrick’s. This is some thing that was on my bucket list last time we were in NYC, but we just never made it there since there was a convenient little Franciscan Friary down the street from us. This time we walked the 10 blocks it took to get to St. Patrick’s and I’m so glad we did! Not only was it a beautiful mass, knowing that the pope had just recently visited, but we also got to walk through Times Square, a farmers market, and Rockefeller Center on our way to the church. So, even though most of our time was spent inside the convention center, we got to do a quick walking tour of NYC on our way to mass. [Not to mention, the streets are almost empty early on a Sunday morning, which made our walk much more enjoyable, and less rushed.]

Overall, it was just a really fun trip! It was definitely tough on my pregnant body, and I had to keep a close eye for swelling and take every opportunity possible to sit down and rest my hips… but I am so glad I was able to have this short little “babymoon” with my husband.

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Lumpia

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Don’t let the name scare you, these delicious morsels are the Filipino version of an egg roll and they are DELICIOUS. When people think of San Diego, they think “Mexican,” but there is such a huge variety of different backgrounds and cultures in California, I couldn’t even begin to describe them all to you. When I think of lumpia, I think of October. I know it doesn’t seem like a seasonal food, and indeed, none of the ingredients are seasonal, But I used to have this tasty meal at our former parish’s Fall Festival every year. I grew up going to Guardian Angels parish, and the feast day for Guardian Angels is in early October hence the festival. The Filipino women of our parish spend HOURS making these, months ahead of time. They would freeze their hard work, and them bring them out at festival time, fry them up, and serve them to raise money for the church. That is why lumpia = October to me.

It has been probably over 5 years since I last went to Guardian Angel’s fall festival. I haven’t attempted to recreate the recipe until this year, and I was wildly successful. The only hard part is rolling them as tight and as skinny as they are supposed to be. Unlike egg rolls, these are not supposed to be fat. In fact, they are supposed to resemble more of a taquito.

Besides that, they are surprisingly easy to make. Here’s what you need:

  • 1(20 count) package egg roll wrappers
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 cup white onion minced
  • 1cup carrot, minced
  • 1cup celery,  minced (same as above)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 12teaspoon ground pepper

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  1. Brown beef  in a skillet over medium heat until almost completely cooked. Drain the fat, cool, and then process in food processor or chop up into fine pieces with fork.
  2. Combine meats, vegetables, egg, sauces, pepper in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour for flavors to set in (I made mine an hour ahead of time)
  3. Prepare wrapper (by separating) and place on a separate plate. Place 1 to 2 T of filling in the center of the wrapper.
  4. Fold left edge over all the way, then bring down top and bottom, then roll the rest of the way to the right, making a roll. (see picture above to get started)
  5. After you have assembled all the lumpia, heat your oil to 375 degrees (you can do this in a deep fryer, or just heat oil in a skillet and take the temp with a meat thermometer). Cook until golden brown, turning often, approximately 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
  6. Serve with sweet and sour sauce, I personally like La Choy which can be found in any grocery store 🙂 Enjoy!

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